WEST PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus is trying hard to overcome what many view as a dangerous neighborhood and a history of underperforming that predates them.
There are several issues involved with educating young people and making them feel safe. So when the principal saw what he interpreted as the police contributing to the problem, he was moved to act.
"Police who were here to make sure the students were safe started riding their motorcycles on the pavement. A lot of the students were wondering what all of the commotion was about as well as students felt anxious."
That anxiety led to an exchange between police and a student with the student allegedly being put in handcuffs for what Principal Sherif El Mekkhi says was described as having a smart mouth. He wanted to express his disappointment so he started with an open letter to the police
"Talk and interact with our students in the same manner you would want someone interacting with your own daughters and sons-regardless of if they have "smart mouths." You're the adult. You're the professional. Have more tools in your toolkit besides weapons and aggression."
The letter was powerful but Principal El Mekkhi didn't just want to vent. He wanted to change things in his community and for his students.
"A few days later surprisingly we got a call from Police Commissioner Ross who wanted to reach out, let me know he read the letter and would love to engage our students."
Whether your belief system is best defined as black lives matter, blue lives matter or all lives matter, the reality is that no lives will really matter until we're talking to each other and not just about each other.
Principal El Mekhi believes that and apparently so does police Commissioner Richard Ross because when he heard of the letter and concerns he made a point of coming today to speak to the students of Mastery Charter.
"I'm happy to be here today. I like these kind of forums to have some open dialogue you can feel free to ask me anything."
The discussion was passionate, the type of open dialogue that can change things-
"Where are the good cops when the bad cops are doing wrong?"
"Most of our experiences are negative, we're having much more negative experiences than positive."
-and could be summarized by todays quote of the day:
"When we treat children with respect they in turn learn how to respect other human beings."
"Ya gotta be willing to meet people where they are and show people that you understand their frustrations and that we're gonna work hard to make things better, that's what we're here for."
Let's not sugar coat it, today's message wasn't about wanting the police to leave or take a hands off approach. It was about how to establish a relationship and about a principal and a police commissioner who know that the first step to solving problems in our communities is to put aside our personal biases and try to come together for our children's sake, our city's sake, for goodness sake.